Friday, June 26, 2015

A Broadway Tribute and Celebration of Life

It began as a sweet whisp of memory for Jody Proetta, who grew up as a true Broadway baby in New York City, hanging around backstage at some legendary musicals with her beloved aunt and uncle who were Broadway dancers, teachers and choreographers. Her sweetest memory of those days was when they worked with the show "Oliver!".  She was eleven years old and had the chance to build a warm and lasting friendship with a talented British teenager named David Jones, who garnered a Tony nomination and nightly standing ovations for his performance as the Artful Dodger.


He was like a kind and protective older brother who listened to her hopes and dreams and who let her tag along when he went to Central Park some afternoons to relax in the shade of a beautiful tree and read poetry. Often, they would take turns reading favorite poems to each other.

Although Broadway and New York were always dear to his heart, David became Davy and left that part of his life behind for stardom as one of television's Monkees. But he always treasured the memory of his New York days.

So did Jody. Her memories of that sweet time with her special friend became especially poignant after his death in 2012. He was widely eulogized as a top teen idol and as a Monkee. But the prodigiously talented Broadway star and the gentle soul who helped at least one little girl feel so special seemed lost forever.

And so she began to plan an event that would celebrate Davy Jones as family, friends and co-workers remembered him. She imagined a celebration of his life on Broadway at one of his favorite restaurants -- Sardi's -- and the dedication of a tree -- that special tree that had shaded them more than half a century ago -- in his honor.


Davy's tree in Central Park

And that's how the idea began for A Tree Grows in Central Park, a Broadway Memorial for Davy Jones. It became reality last Sunday at Sardi's and then under that special tree at Central Park as a large, eclectic group gathered to pay tribute.

Speakers and performers included his friend and neighbor Cathy Whitehead, who spoke of Davy's dream to convert an abandoned church in their town of Beaverton, Pa, to a community center and museum and how she and other friends are working to make that dream happen; Buffy Ford Stewart, the "Sleepy Jean" of "Daydream Believer" whose husband John Stewart wrote that signature song for him; singer-songwriter Chris Pick, who wrote and performed a beautiful song in his memory; Fred Velez, a writer who became a friend as he helped Davy with one of his books and who has written a book of his own "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees From a Fan's Perspective"; actress Valerie Kairys Venet, a frequent guest star on the Monkees; singer David Alexander who performed with Davy from time to time as his own busy career allowed and who remembered him as a singularly dear soul. The Monkees tribute band the Monkeephiles added to the festivities.

Valerie Kairys Venet and David Alexander
Photo by David Levin

David Alexander's musical tribute

Friend and neighbor Cathy Whitehead shares her memories and plans

Buffy Ford Stewart and Monkeephiles sing "Daydream Believer"

And I was included as a speaker because my first encounter with Davy Jones was during his time with "Oliver!" exactly 50 years ago, a time when he dried my tears and helped me through my very first interview as a college class assignment, an encounter I described in a blog post Dr. Kathy McCoy: Living Fully in Midlife and Beyond: Remembering Davy Jones.

When Jody and other friends spotted that blog post tribute to him as a kind young man who had helped me begin to lose my fear of interviewing, she was moved by the fact that I had seen his sweet essence during our brief time together. She called me and asked if I would come to New York to share that story with those who loved him at this special Broadway celebration.

I told celebrants how his kindness healed my fear
Photo by Amy Yost Pauling

Most moving moment: Chris Pick sings his memorial song
Video by Teri Holamon

The people crowding into the private dining room at Sardi's last Sunday were not just friends but also many fans from around the world. They had come from Europe and, in surprising numbers, from Japan. It was a day of sharing, singing and celebrating at Sardi's and under his favorite tree in Central Park.

Fans from Tokyo added special joy to the day

Jody Proetta and Kyoko Hosokawa
Photo by David Levin

Jody and other friends at the tree dedication ceremony

The recurring theme of the various tributes, musical and otherwise, was a celebration of Davy Jones for his kindness, genuine caring, and joy in living authentically.

I ended my talk with the thought that the measure of a person's character is not how they act when the spotlight is on them or when they're rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, but how they are when no one is looking, with someone who isn't rich or powerful, but young and scared. And by that measure, Davy Jones was a very special person.

Fred Velez, who had spent many hours working with Davy and got to know his family, offered the insight that another -- perhaps the ultimate -- measure of a person's character is how their children turn out -- and that Davy Jones' four beautiful, kind and caring daughters Talia, Sarah, Jessica and Annabel are his greatest legacy.

Fred Velez with Sarah, Talia and Jessica Jones

Fred Velez with Annabel Jones

It made perfect sense. When you think about it, the professional triumphs and standing ovations and world-wide fame matter less and less as time goes by.

It's true not just for Davy Jones but for all of us as everything fades but the love we leave behind.

What matters in the end is not how much money we made or didn't or how famous we were -- or not.

What matters is how kind we were, how considerate of others, how we followed our dreams and encouraged others to do the same, how we made others feel special and cherished. What matters is what we did when no one was looking and how we taught our children to be giving and kind and make the world a better place.

And that's what got Davy Jones his last standing ovation on Sunday.


  1. What a beautiful memorial to Davy Jones and your last paragraph wraps it up. That is what life is all about and a life well lived.

  2. What a lovely recollection of a fantastic afternoon! It was such a pleasure meeting you. The gathering at Sardi's and then later at the tree were magical moments.

  3. I remember your earlier post and was so pleased to learn what a dear man he was as I had been a fan. How lucky of you to have had such a special light in your life and I am sure you were one in his. He will live forever in the hearts of those who really knew him.

  4. It was a pleasure to meet you at last Sunday at A Tree Grows in Central Park. I very much enjoyed your tribute.

  5. I have been waiting many months to read this post, Kathy, and I'm so glad it was the kind of enriching, joyful and loving experience you hoped (and knew) it would be. I remember that first post well (Wish you'd included a hotlink in the text when mentioning it so new readers could find it more easily -- they would love it!).

    Sounds like the start of a wonderful trip to New York and I hope we'll hear more!

  6. What an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Your last few paragraphs are so true - and exactly what Davy would want to convey to us - he understood that so well - and lived his life in just that way!!! He is so deserving of all the honor and praise!!! He really was an amazing individual - a very "special" person in so many ways!!! He taught us all so much!!